(I am not preaching this Sunday, Nov 11, 2007, because Debbie and I will be returning from the National Outreach Convention in San Diego where I’m leading a couple of workshops. Here’s a sermon I preached earlier this year on August 12, 2007. This is not the lectionary reading for this Sunday, but maybe it will spark some other thoughts of yours. Have a great week! — Chuck)
The God Who Surprises (video) (mp3)
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.
39But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Surprises: A definition
When Debbie and I were dating – I was 15 and she was 14 when we met a church – I used to love to surprise her. Actually, I used to hide behind the door and when she would walk into the room, I would jump out and scare the daylights out of her. Boy, was she surprised. By the way, I would not recommend this technique as a way to endear a girl to you, but Debbie put up with my 15-year-old humor until I outgrew it. Well, that’s one kind of surprise. Not a very good kind, but I guess it could have been worse.
But in this passage, Jesus tells us about a lot of surprises that God has for us. What is a surprise anyway? Well, to really be a surprise, it has to be something totally unexpected, and totally good. I mean, somebody might surprise you by jumping out from behind a door, and that would be unexpected, but not totally good. Funny, but not good. So, a surprise – in my definition – is something totally unexpected and totally a good thing to have happen to me. Bad things come under the category of “shock,” or “horrified,” or other not so good descriptors. Surprises, especially from God, are always unexpected and good.
The first surprise: God is giving us the kingdom
Not a kingdom, but the kingdom, as in Kingdom of God. The kingdom that is the rule and reign of God. The kingdom that Jesus said was near and coming and in us. That kingdom. You didn’t expect that did you? We are pretty used to expecting God to save us, do good things for us, help us, strengthen us, and a bunch of other stuff, but we haven’t really thought much about God giving us the kingdom.
Remember Peter? Jesus said to Peter – I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom. Well, Peter isn’t the only one getting access to the kingdom. The entire little flock – all disciples, and by extension the church today – is getting the kingdom. That’s better than being appointed to a position by the president. We’re getting the kingdom. And we’re getting it now.
Oh, one small catch. If you’re going to get the kingdom, you’ve got to start living like a citizen of the kingdom.
So, here’s what that involves –
- Sell you possessions.
- Give to the poor.
- Invest in things that won’t wear out.
Why? Because where your treasure is – the thing you value, the thing you would die for, the thing that consumes you, the thing that occupies your thoughts and your plans – there is where your heart – the real you – will be. The surprise is — we’re getting the kingdom. But like Dorothy said to Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Kingdom living is different from self-centered living.
Kingdom living was described first in the Garden of Eden. God gave you everything you needed and you got to walk with God in the garden everyday. That’s different from the way we live now. But, even when all that got messed up, God told Abraham – “I’ve got a surprise for you. I’m going to make you the father of a great nation.” And, that’s when Abraham was old and had no kids. Even worse, Sara his wife was old, too, and she was the one to bear him a son.
Frankly, after spending a week with our three grandchildren, I feel for Abraham and Sarah. But, I guess it all worked out for them – maybe they had help.
In any event, God surprised them with the unexpected and the totally good. But, Abraham had to leave his homeland, and follow God to a place he’d never been. Abraham had to invest in God’s surprise to realize it. Why did he do it? Because Abraham’s heart wasn’t in Ur, it was in God.
The second surprise: Jesus is coming back
So, not only do we get the kingdom, but the King is coming. Why is he coming? Because he’s given us the kingdom. We’re the outpost of the kingdom of God, a colony of heaven, a contrast society, God’s people. God’s place is always with his people. We think of God as in heaven, and I don’t even know why. If we read the Bible, all the stories we have are of God with His people.
- God was with Adam and Eve in the garden.
- God was with Noah and his family.
- God was with Abraham and Sarah.
- God was with Isaac, and then with Jacob.
- God was with Moses, and Joshua.
- God was with Deborah and Samson and Samuel.
- God was with Saul, and then David.
- God was with the prophets.
- God was with John the Baptist.
- And then, God with us – Immanuel – Jesus was literally with his disciples. And with Paul on the road to Damascus, and with the early church, and with John the Revelator on the Isle of Patmos. The story of God cannot be told without telling the story of God with his people.
Even after Jesus ascended back into heaven, Peter said that “This same Jesus” will come again. And, in the interim, Jesus sends the Spirit – the Paraclete – to be with us and in us. To be his presence in the midst of community, to be with us individually, to pray for us and in our place when we cannot pray for ourselves.
So, the God of surprises did not do all this to wait for us to die and come to him. He is coming back. Now, here’s another surprise – well, this doesn’t really qualify as a surprise by my definition – totally unexpected and totally good. So, this may be more like a shock to you, but here it is. Most of what we know about the return of Jesus – I’d say about 99.9% — is going to be wrong.
A little background is necessary here. There are at least three main schools of thought on the return of Christ:
Post-millenialism. The belief that Christ will return after the 1,000-years of peace. This was a really popular theory until WWI broke out, and then it kind of fell off the radar.
Pre-millenialism. In about 1850 or so, J.N. Darby came up with an elaborate theory called premillenial dispensationalism. This is the “Left Behind Series” that has make Jerry Jenkins, and Tim La Haye millionaires. The belief that Christ will return before the 1,000 years of peace, and has a lot of other stuff like the tribulation, the rapture, and a lot of really bad Hollywood movies made about it.
Amillenialism. This is the belief that there is no literal 1,000 years of peace.
So, take your pick, but be ready to be surprised, because we all will be. Why do I say that? Because none of us ever gets it right. God always surprises us.
We’re More Interested In Our Own Certainty Than God’s Surprises
But, you know what our problem is? We’re more interested in our own ideas than we are in the God who surprises. So, we’ll argue with each other over the return of Christ, or a bunch of other stuff that we don’t have a clue about.
I read an article the other day in which Presbyterians were urging that their pastors who embraced the thinking of scholars who were calling for a new approach to the work of Paul, turn themselves in to their presbyteries and confess that they held doctrines contrary to the teaching of the Presbyterian church. Why? Because those in power in the Presbyterian church know they are right and everybody else is wrong.
And, lest you think that Baptists get off because we believe in soul freedom and the priesthood of the believer, Southern Baptists have just been through 25-years of battles over who’s right about the Bible, women in ministry, the role of the local church, and a host of other issues. Historically, the Protestant Reformation came about because Luther questioned the beliefs and practices of the Catholic church, only later to persecute people like the Anabaptists who didn’t believe what the Lutherans believed.
The history of the Christian faith is replete with those who think they are dead right, and are willing to kill others who disagree. Think that’s too strong? What do you think the Crusades were about? Or the Inquisition? Or religious persecution of Baptists in colonial Virginia? Or the whole Northern Ireland fiasco where protestants and catholics waged guerilla warfare against each other and the British over religious dogma.
Why? Because we don’t like surprises. We like certainty. Even if our certainty is wrong, mean, and spiteful. At least we are certain. And certainty beats surprises anyday.
Do you think folks in the first century were surprised when an unmarried teenager gave birth to the Saviour of the world? Would you have bought that story? Of course not.
Do you think the disciples were surprised when the Lord they followed for three years in hopes of finding freedom from Rome and freedom from the oppressive Jewish religious leaders was killed in a conspiracy that joined the Romans and the Jewish leaders together?
Do you think the disciples were surprised at the empty tomb? Only the women went to the tomb, the men knew Jesus was dead, really dead. Do you think the early church was surprised when the Spirit came like wind and fire on the day of Pentecost, when only days before they had been hiding for their lives?
Do you think Paul was surprised on the road to Damascus? Or Peter surprised when he was miraculously freed from prison? Or John surprised when Jesus appears to him in a vision on the Isle of Patmos?
None of it was expected, none of it was believed by the religious people of the day because it did not fit their certainty.
The God who surprises us is still at work. And if we think we have it figured out; if we think we know all there is to know; if we think God has done all he’s going to do – are we in for a surprise! Something totally unexpected. Something totally good. Because the one thing we know about God is that he always surprises us. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.